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Nurses working hours

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A lot of times I get the question “What’s it like working as a Nurse?” Whew, what a loaded question. Meaning, the answer is too complex and too involved to give such a simple answer. I always reply with, “Can you be more specific?”

“What kind of hours do you work?”

Most of the time our friends, relatives, spouses and other non-nurses can’t understand what it means to work past your shift, and not get out on time.

For those of us not working ‘shift’ work and not working on the clinical floor giving direct patient care (at the bedside) the hours are pretty straight forward for the most part. I’ve worked in an office (briefly) as well as a non-clinical position, and you can usually get out around the time you are scheduled for – barring some unforeseen circumstances and situations.

For those of us giving direct bedside patient care – it’s another story. Now I’m not saying we have it better or worse than anyone else, it’s simply a different world of work.

You may very well be scheduled for an 8 or 12 hour shift, but in all likelihood, you won’t actually be getting out at the time you are scheduled. Heh heh. (You knoooooow what I’m talking about)

There is no way to predict how the pace of a day can go. So many things happen, so many things come up, so many different ‘fires’ emerge through your day that you simply don’t realize that one minute you got report…. And then BAM it’s somehow 8 hours later??

Everything from getting report, assessments being done, meds being passed, having the proper equipment stocked, checking and re-checking medication administration, patient requests, family requests, physician rounds, physician orders, phone calls from any and everyone, staffing needs and reassessment, manager requests, supervisor requests, scheduling test and procedures whether they are planned or unplanned, more physician rounds, more assessments, patient’s toileting needs, basic nursing care responsibilities, admissions, discharges, etc. And that was just for ONE of your patients, not to mention helping out your fellow co-worker with their share of patient responsibilities. Oh wait, don’t forget patient’s conditions can worsen at the blink of an eye, which will result in another myriad of responsibilities and needs. OOPS, I forgot you have to give report to the next shift on each and everyone of your patients before you can actually be relieved of your duty.

Let’s just say the day can be overwhelming.

Now taking all that into account, you still have to physically chart and document everything that happens. Remember, if it isn’t written or documented – it didn’t happen. And in the world of healthcare that’s a HUGE no-no.

So keeping all that in mind, when your spouse, or family member, or friend (that is a nurse) tells you I work a shift from point A to point B – keep in mind even under the most perfect conditions they never actually just work that scheduled shift.

Please remember to give them some slack, and some breathing room when they are late getting home, when they are late for your party, or when they don’t make it to dinner. It’s something we as nurses learn to accept as our burden – and unfortunately being a part of our life means you get to share in that glory.

We aren’t late because we forgot, or we just got lazy. We are always late because we love our job, and we do our best to take the very best care of our patients. And even in the most ideal conditions, that is sometimes not enough.

Until you’ve walked in our shoes, and played a part in the same race we run, sometimes your patience and understanding is the best we can ask for.

As for me, I am the luckiest Nurse of them all. I married a nurse, so she ‘gets it’. I don’t ever have to explain myself, I simply just tell her it was ‘one of those days’ honey. I’ll be home as soon as I can.

She simply chuckles and takes a deep breath. “Ahh, well I’ll see you when you get home then.”

Did I mention I was lucky?

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
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2 Responses to Nurses working hours

  1. Marcella

    Sean, I know exactly what you mean because I am always “late” geeting off and people that invite me to things can’t seem to understand why it is hard to do things after work, sometimes I do not have an “afterwork”!. It is go home, take a bath, maybe eat and go to bed to be back at work the next day for another “12” hour shift. Luckily my husband works at the other hospital and “gets it”. I have been a nurse 19yrs and he a therapist 30 years.

  2. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    @ Marcella We’re the lucky ones!